Slave Labor in Australia


According to the International Labour Organization’s 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labour, there were an estimated 20.9 million people in forced labor around the world at any given point between 2002 and 2012. The majority of those individuals, 68 percent (14.2 million), were forced to work by private individuals or enterprise in activities such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, and manufacturing. In Australia, most investigations of forced labor have related to sexual exploitation. However, in March of this year, one victim of labor exploitation secured restitution, thanks to the help of pro bono counsel from Clayton Utz.

On March 27, the Australian Federal Circuit Court found that Mr. Dulo Ram, a 45-year-old Indian native, had been trafficked from rural India to an Indian restaurant in suburban Sydney by the restaurant’s owner. The owner lured Ram with the promise of a 457 visa, which is intended to create opportunities for temporary migrant workers in Australia. With no command of English nor contacts in Australia, Ram was forced to work as a cook for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. After working this pace for 16 months, with just one day off, Ram was paid just AUD$6,958.88. He also lived, ate, bathed, and slept in the restaurant kitchen. According to Ram, the owner threatened to harm his family and have him arrested if he returned to India.

Pro bono attorneys from Clayton Utz, working in partnership with Anti-Slavery Australia, a legal research and policy center focused on the abolition of slavery, trafficking, and labor exploitation, agreed to assist Ram in securing his missing wages. After three years of pro bono representation, the team secured a judgment awarding Ram AUD$186,000 in back-pay, entitlements, and interest.

David Hillard, partner, Clayton Utz, who led the team representing Ram, commented:

 “This is happening right now, in our community, under our noses. This case shows that there are avenues for obtaining justice for the victims of labour trafficking and slavery. Compensation will not erase the demeaning, degrading experience which our client has endured, but it does say plainly that what happened to him was wrong, and cannot be tolerated under Australian law.”

In Ram’s case, pro bono counsel played an indispensable role in overcoming logjams. Although the restaurant had been visited by the Department of Immigration, and Ram had complained to the Fair Work Ombudsman, in both cases the restaurant owner used lies and falsified wage records to undermine allegations of wrongdoing. Through pro bono representation, Ram was able to expose the documents provided by the restaurant owner as a sham.

The PBEye is happy to note that Ram has been granted a permanent witness protection (trafficking) visa to remain in Australia with his family. We applaud the work of dedicated pro bono attorneys, in Australia and around the world, who are fighting for justice for the survivors of human trafficking.